Amidst the chaos of dirty diapers, “I wanted the red cup!” tantrums, playtime, and, you know, other adult responsibilities like work, grocery shopping, and getting enough sleep to function without 19 cups of coffee, it’s hard to imagine carving out any time for mindfulness. Meditation might seem like a luxury reserved for those without children but first, consider this:
Finding time to practice mindfulness can not only improve your immune function and decrease stress and anxiety, it can make you a better parent. Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to reduce reactivity, help you manage emotions, and enhance relationships.
Keep in mind that meditation and mindfulness aren’t exactly the same thing. Psychology Today defines it like this:
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.”
With that in mind, you realize you don’t need a meditation cushion and hours of silence to reap the benefits of mindfulness. You can practice right in the midst of everyday life, as you’re doing the laundry, playing with your children, or running errands. This is how:
Pause and Notice
We often rush through daily tasks on auto-pilot, especially as the to-do list grows. Take a few moments throughout your day to pause and truly notice what’s going on around you. How does your food taste? How does it feel in your mouth? What color are your spouse’s socks? Are the people in that car laughing or arguing?
Take a Deep Breath
We generally allow our breathing to happen without much thought (unless we’ve just climbed a couple of flights of stairs), but we can increase our mindfulness by paying attention to the breath. Take control of your inhales and exhales, intentionally deepening and lengthening each one. You can do this during your morning commute, while sitting at your desk, or even when your child has done something upsetting. First tune-in to the sound and the feel of your breath, make an effort to slow it down, and then respond to your child.
Be Thoroughly Involved With What You’re Doing
Sometimes we’re making dinner when we’d rather be reading; we’re walking the dog when we’d rather be in bed. We allow our minds to ruminate over past conflicts or situations, or we jump ahead to something we’d rather be doing (or, worse, something we’re not looking forward to). Instead, take advantage of the time you spend doing these mundane tasks by practicing mindfulness at the same time.
Rather than wishing you were somewhere else, focus on exactly what you’re doing. As you brush your teeth, for example, pay attention to how the bristles feel. Do they tickle? Irritate? Notice the taste of the toothpaste–is it more spearminty or pepperminty? How is your hand holding the brush? How are you standing? Are you looking at yourself in the mirror? Allow yourself to fully experience what you’re doing.
Before you go to bed at night, mentally list all the things you’re grateful for. This has two benefits: it allows you to focus mindfully on something, and you reap the many benefits of practicing gratitude–including better sleep! Don’t forget to find some appreciation for the challenging parts of life that serve to teach valuable lessons, introduce you to someone you’re glad to know or help you find clarity.
Take It Easy on Yourself
Mindfulness is a practice, which means you’re not going to do it perfectly on Day 1 (or even on Day 1,000). Have patience with yourself! Find the mindfulness practices that work for you, and continue to do them on a daily basis. Slowly but surely, you’ll start to see and feel the benefits, all without rescheduling your entire life around regular meditation retreats.